8 April 2013

Formal certification

The issue of certification sparks debate among translators. In an unregulated profession, you can work without it, but my impression is that anyone seriously thinking about being a translator should strive for some relevant formal title.

I have a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford and a Master's degree in Journalism from Madrid's Universidad Complutense. I also have a very thorough knowledge of several languages, as well as comprehensive contact with the cultures of countries where those languages are spoken. Can I work as a translator? Yes, of course. I have been doing just that - quite well, I think - for years. 

Why then would I need certification? To show to people who do not know me and need not care about my background that I am a serious professional. 

Some people refer to the example of doctors and lawyers to point out that one can only really become a professional translator with a title in the field. I disagree with that. To me, a translator is a lot more like a musician or indeed a journalist. A piece may be well played without a conservatory education, and a story may be well written without a formal degree in journalism.

I don't think anyone could be in a position to practice medicine or law just through talent or practice, but I do think that a translator can learn the trade just with a natural ability, great dedication and general exposure to languages and fields of expertise, and get to be as good as he or she can hope to be.

And yet, if I had to hire a translator myself and I did not personally know a specialist in the particular pair and field of expertise, I would only consider a certified translator. Why should I settle for less? All other things being equal, I would obviously opt for the person who looked best on paper, even in the knowledge that this is no guarantee and that I may be missing a great professional... like me!

I assume that any potential client would do the same, which is why I am seeking certification myself.

The next issue is how to go about that, because it is not always easy even if you are well prepared. 

I live in Argentina, and certification in Argentina can only be attained through a five-year university course. To me, that makes little sense. I lived in Britain for seven years, and I am a journalist who has written plenty in both Spanish and English: it is unfair to treat me like an 18-year-old who has never even set foot in an English-speaking country and has never written anything in any language beyond a school essay.

In Spain, where I am from, there are two ways to attain certification. One way is the same as in Argentina, and the other is a Foreign Ministry examination. That once sounded like the way to go, but months later I still have no idea of when the exam might actually be held next. Mmm...

Then there is ATA certification. It is expensive and becomes ridiculously so when you take into account the fact that I would need to pay for flights, hotel stays and so on. They boast a pass rate of less than 20 per cent, which I find puzzling at best and suspicious at worst, and only consider certification valid for as long as you are a paying member of the ATA.

So life once again brings me back to Britain! I hope to sit the DipTrans exam in January, not in Buenos Aires but not too far either, since I can do it in Montevideo.

I really believe a professional should strive for formal certification in translation. However, the system has to incorporate ways to allow those who think they deserve certification to prove that they actually do, without a four- or five-year university course that starts at the level of secondary school English, and secondary school life experience, for that matter. 


  1. Very well said Veronica! I am in the same boat, followed the same line of thinking you did and I believe the DipTrans is the way to go. I am now living in Brazil so even though that would involve some travelling, the cost of going to Montevideo is far less that one to the US or England.
    Great post!
    Monica V. Freitas

  2. Congratulations Monica! Apparently there are more than 100 people reading my blog per day and you are the first person who dared comment here! ;)
    I am very glad you found the post good. I hope this blog can allow readers easier access to some of the information you and I had to search longer for.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with everything you said here, Veronica. I like your comparison between the translator and a musician and of course you are right with the reasoning that some sort of translation certification will give you more credibility - a bit similar to what you described in your previous blog about the CAT tools.
    I was lucky enough that Australia has its own accreditation authority and thanks to my former qualification and experience (!) I was allowed to sit the test without having to under take any additional years of further study.
    P.S.: I really admire your writing skills!

    1. Thanks, Petra. I'm glad that Australia incorporates experience as a factor for certification. It definitely makes sense, even if you require more specific qualifications for court translations and the like. On your PS... I guess the journalist in me helps somewhat!